Saturday, September 26, 2009

Giff's WWII Stories Moving and Memorable

Gram says Lily's problem is that she doesn't think. But, that's not true. She does think. A lot. She thinks about her beloved Poppy, fighting the Nazis in some unknown land; she thinks about her friend Margaret, whose older brother's been MIA since D-Day; and she thinks about Albert, who worries about the family he left behind in Hungary. It should be another idyllic summer on the Atlantic shore - just like every other she's spent at Rockaway - but this is 1944 and nothing is the same as it used to be.

Lily's Crossing by Patricia Reilly Giff, is the touching tale of an impetuous 5th grader whose life changes irrevocably during one remarkable summer. As she fishes, swims and enjoys her liberation from the nuns at St. Pascal's, she becomes an eyewitness to the drama and heartache brought on by the Second World War. She's not thrilled about eating boiled cabbage, receiving censored letters that keep her father's location secret, or eating bakery cookies made bland by the scarcity of butter and eggs. The war's one big inconvenience, destroying the lazy summer Lily was hoping to enjoy with her dad. Although she's known for telling whoppers, she can't lie to herself anymore - the summer of 1944 is the worst she's ever experienced.

When Lily meets Albert, her whole outlook changes. A refugee from Budapest, he escaped his war-torn home with only the treasures sewn into the collar of his coat. He doesn't know what's become of his parents, his Nagymamma, or his little sister. While Lily has observed the war, Albert has lived it. Desperate to bring their loved ones home, the pair hatch a plan - one that will put not only their friendship, but also their very lives, in jeopardy.

With authentic period detail, endearing characters and an adventure-filled storyline, Lily's Crossing is a beautifully-rendered novel about a special friendship between two aching children. It's funny, tender and true. Sniffling my way through the end made me realize it's been way too long since a book moved me as much as this one did. Lily's Crossing is simply a lovely little read.

Grade: A

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for mild language and suspenseful action scenes

Willow Run, the sequel to Lily's Crossing, follows Lily's friend Meg Dillon through her own adventures during the summer of 1944. The Dillons leave Rockaway, New York, for Willow Run, Michigan, where Meg's father has taken a job in a factory. A former pilot, his poor eyesight has kept him out of the war - anxious to help the war effort, he will be helping to build B-24 bombers. Meg wants the Germans defeated as much as anyone, but she's not happy about leaving her seaside home. Especially when she sees her new digs:

A kindergarten kid could have drawn it: a long low box that stretched from one end of the paper to the other, no paint, no color. And if you didvided the box into tiny sections, each family would have one to live in. Worst of all, there was no grass, nothing growing, only tree stumps near the curb, their tops pale and raw (33).

Compared to her grandpa's lush garden back in Rockaway, Willow Run might as well be the Sahara Desert.

Grandpa. Secretly, Meg's glad he didn't come with them to Michigan. With his German accent and odd ways, he was safer in New York, where everyone knew him. She had already caught some boys painting a swastika on his house - persecution would likely be much worse in a bigger city where Josef von Frisch was a stranger. Besides, he smelled like pickles, insisted on calling her Margaret, and whispered through every movie they watched together. An embarrassment.

As Meg acclimates herself to her new surroundings, she discovers that Willow Run may not be the worst place to have an adventure of her own. She has Patches and Harlan, who help her keep an eye on Arnold the Spy. In many ways, it's a typical summer for Meg - she's playing with her friends, watching movies and writing jingles in the hopes of winning a glamorous trip to New York City. Then, comes the telegram that changes everything: Her beloved brother Eddie is Missing in Action. His absence makes it all worse - the dismal apartment, her mother's worry, her grandpa's distance. All she wants is to go back in time, back to Rockaway, back to life without the war. That's a childish notion, of course, and if there's one thing she's done over the summer, it's grow up. Nothing will ever be the same, least of all her.

Like its predecessor, Willow Run is a simple, tender story about family, friendship and enduring tough times. It's moving and memorable, a worthy companion to Lily's Crossing. Both are lovely historical stories, well worth the read.

Grade: B+

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for mild language and references to war violence

(Book images from Barnes & Noble)

6 comments:

  1. I really remember liking Lily's Crossing when I read it in 5th/6th grade! I can't remember all that happens in it now, so perhaps it's time for a reread. Never read the sequel, though!

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  2. Lily's crossing looks like a gorgeous book :)

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  3. I've never heard of this author or these books so I must look them up. I love the sound of the first one in particular as I've never read a WW2 book from the pov of a child in the US. That ought to be fascinating. Great reviews!

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  4. Susan, thanks for reviewing Willow Run as well as Lily's Crossing! I had no idea there was a sequel. I had reviewed Lily's Crossing this spring. I will have to find a copy of Willow Run. What a nice companion piece that it's from friend's point of view.

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  5. Thanks for your comments, everybody! I'm not sure how I missed LILY'S CROSSING, but I hadn't heard of it until a few weeks ago. My sister e-mailed me for book suggestions for her 5th grade daughter who had to write a book review on a book set in The U.S. during WWII. Only one book popped into my head. I could think of tons of WWII stories, but most were set in Europe. So, I finally did a Google search and came up with a few ideas - LILY'S CROSSING was one of them. I don't know what my niece ended up reading, but I read and LOVED this one and its sequel. I definitely recommend them to kids and adults.

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  6. I've been wanting to read these books for a while now, as I've heard good things about them. Glad to see you liked them, too.

    Would it be okay to link to your review on War Through the Generations?

    --Anna
    Diary of an Eccentric

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